Question: I was trying to instruct someone that masturbation is wrong. And when I went…
Sin has no denomination
Two wrongs do not make a right. The revelation of sexual abuse of children by leaders in Southern Baptist congregations in no way excuses similar crimes in the Catholic Church, but the reports can provide Catholics with facts to consider.
First of all, the reports came from two newspapers long respected for accuracy and thoroughness in reporting: the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. Neither publication can be dismissed as “fake news.” For that matter, Southern Baptist officials have accepted the findings.
Eerily, one aspect of the situation corresponds very closely to what happened in the Catholic Church. A decade ago, many Southern Baptists appealed to the leadership at least to recognize the problem and to act firmly to address it. According to the news reports, nothing, in fact, effectively happened.
It is good and proper that officials in the denomination now have apologized to victims and promised to do everything possible to prevent such abuse in the future.
Any American who wants to see the best in this society should hope that these efforts to repair the damage and correct the problem succeed. While Southern Baptists more than occasionally have been at odds with the Catholic Church, they represent a religion that for centuries has uplifted the moral tone of the American people. Such dedication to Christian moral values is needed today.
What lessons can Catholics learn from these reports?
First, celibacy is not a cause of the sexual abuse of children, as some are apt to say. Rarely is a Southern Baptist minister not married. Most are fathers of children. The news stories in Houston and San Antonio did not give details regarding the marriage status of the accused, but, given the facts, it must be presumed that most are spouses and parents.
Here is another lesson. Pedophilia and sexual exploitation do not come necessarily, or primarily, as results of same-gender attraction. Sexual abuse of the young is a sickness, an absence of good psychological health. Steps can be taken to keep persons afflicted with this problem away from temptation, but, as of now, nothing can be done to reverse this sexual attraction to the young.
This hardly is a secret. Since it is so well-known, once again, after looking at what has occurred in the Catholic Church, it is amazing, and heart-sickening, that leaders in Southern Baptist congregations were not more responsive. So often they looked the other way. Perpetrators moved from here to there.
The Southern Baptist denomination, and the Catholic Church, have had these reactions in common.
Why the cover-up? The chief concern so often was the untarnished façade of the institution and even the reputation of abusers themselves. Victims were ignored. Their injuries downplayed. Little, or not enough, was done to stop the problem. They drew a curtain of secrecy, bluntly speaking, around crimes and criminals.
Certain differences apply. Every Catholic congregation is truly connected with higher authorities. Southern Baptist congregations are totally independent. No outside authority has control over any of them. Still, they communicate with each other. Most importantly, they have responsibilities to obey moral law and to imitate Christ.
Speaking of his own denomination, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention saw the events revealed by these reports, ultimately, as signs of dismissing the message and example of Jesus. Amen to that.
Sickness is sickness. Compulsion is compulsion. Humans sin. Humans should forgive. Yet religious leaders must be true to Christ, surely within their own houses.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.